Generators vs. Solar Panels: Which is Better?

Solar panels and generators are the most famous and easy to use alternate power solutions during an outage. While some people also use solar panels as the primary source of electricity with back up batteries, it is very costly. The costs may start from $30,000 and vary depending upon the size of your home and electricity demand. Such costs are usually out of pocket for an average American household. Why spend so much on an energy source when you have the comfort of electrical supply at home.

The generator vs. solar panel debate is mostly limited to an alternate source of power for your homes and outdoor purposes. In this article, we will discuss it and elaborate on all the pros and cons of both. We will also suggest which one is best under what circumstances.

Let’s begin!

Generators vs. Solar Panels

Power Output

Solar Panel power output

A portable generator is far superior as compared to a solar panel. A portable solar panel will be able to provide a maximum of 100-500 watts of electricity. On the contrary, a generator’s power output starts from 800W and goes up according to its size. Generators will give you immediate power as compared to solar panels.

Type of Fuel

Solar panels are dependent on sunlight to work. If the sun is not shining correctly, and the conditions are overcast, the solar panels will not work. Generators, on the other hand, are not dependent on sunlight. They need gas, propane, or diesel to function. There is no such restriction with the use of generators. You will get power regardless of the weather conditions. However, you may need to take some safety measures while running a generator in bad weather.


The initial purchase cost of solar panels and generators will depend on what size you are buying. Calculating an average cost would be difficult because of the large variations in price. However, we can calculate the running costs. A solar panel is a clear winner in this department. Its running cost is negligible as compared to the operating cost of a generator. A solar panel needs sunlight, which is free of charge for everyone. A generator’s operational cost depends on its size, type of fuel, and how much stuff you are running on it, and for how much time.

The long term cost of a solar panel is meager as compared to a generator. If you take proper care, it rarely needs maintenance. On the other hand, generators need regular maintenance in the shape of an oil change, servicing, spark plug replacement, and other issues that may arrive from time to time in older models.


Solar panels are more portable as compared to generators. Solar panels are lightweight, easy to carry, and do not need large space for storage. You can easily keep them in your RVs, camps and store them in your garage cupboards without any issues. For generators, you need to make adjustments to your RV for carrying it around. It will also be an issue for you to take it with you to the campsite. You will need one more person to have a small portable gas generator with you. Inverter generators are lightweight, and one individual can lift them.

Ease of Use

It is easy to use a solar panel as compared to a generator. You don’t have to add fuel to it. All you have to do is open the plates and spread them facing south. You may need to move them after an hour or two to make the sunshine on them. If you are camping in a safe area, you can also leave it unattended to charge the batteries. Generators have to be refueled, started, and connected with the power supply. You would have to keep your generator at least 10-15 feet away from your camp as its exhaust fumes are not safe to breathe. You won’t be able to leave your generator unattended.

Noise and Emissions

Ease of use

Generators are far behind in these two areas. Solar panels don’t have any running sound and don’t emit any gasses. They are the safest and cleanest source of energy and are extremely environment friendly. Generators emit carbon monoxide and other harmful gases; therefore, they must be run at a minimum distance of 10 feet from your camp or home. Inverter generators produce very low sound and are also harmless as compared to conventional fuel-based generators. One way to keep your generator silent is to use a high-quality exhaust muffler. Generators produce at least 60-80 decibels of sound, and it can be really annoying.


Generators need periodical maintenance like oil change, filter replacement, and taking care of so many different aspects. You would need to inspect the machine after running it for 50,100 or 500 hours. The maintenance needs also depend upon your usage and the age of the generator. Solar panels need to be cleaned after and before use so that dust won’t accumulate on the cells. You may need to change the quick connectors once in a while.

Pros and Cons

Solar Panel


  • Clean energy
  • Free power
  • Environment friendly
  • Easy to travel with
  • Less maintenance
  • Zero running cost
  • Silent


  • Very high initial cost (depending on the setup and number of panels)
  • Depends on sunlight
  • It takes time to charge up
  • Roof solar panels are susceptible to damage from bad weather



  • Need no battery charging
  • Instant source of alternate electricity
  • No dependency on weather
  • Inverter generator runs appliances directly
  • Can run high-wattage appliances


  • High running cost
  • Needs regular maintenance
  • Less portable as compared to small solar panels
  • Produces noise and toxic fumes

Final Word: What’s the best setup?

For Homes

If you can afford the initial setup cost for setting up solar panels for your home, go for it. It will result in a lot of savings for you in the long run. It is particularly beneficial for people living in hot climates with plenty of suns. Installing a standby/portable generator along with solar panels will save you a handsome amount of money in the form of zero electricity bills. This setup will cost you a lot, and you may not be willing to invest so much in it. If this is the case, a portable generator with enough power to run your essential appliances during power outages will be your best bet.

For Outdoor

Outdoor trips demand power availability at all times. Installing a solar panel at the roof of your RV along with batteries can be a cost-saving solution for the long term to provide electricity to run your TV, microwave, radio, and air conditioner. It will also give you the freedom to visit camping sites where generators are not allowed. A small portable solar panel will not give you enough power as a portable generator. It will be enough to charge your phone at the camp. Generators provide far more power than small solar panels. Solar panels are dependent on sunlight to work and will produce less power. Generators, on the contrary, are your all-weather friends for outdoor purposes.

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